Christopher Wicking: Screenwriter and critic who wrote for Hammer and worked on the adaptation of 'Absolute Beginners' - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Christopher Wicking: Screenwriter and critic who wrote for Hammer and worked on the adaptation of 'Absolute Beginners'

In contemporary cinema, cult directors have become almost commonplace but screenwriters are rarely accorded that ambiguous accolade.

It was the unenviable lot of the British screenwriter Christopher Wicking, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 65, to be swiftly promoted to that dubious pantheon while still in his early thirties.

His scripts for the British branch of American-International, a company specialising in horror and exploitation pictures, were quirkily arresting. He understood how to grab an audience by the lapels and hold them for the ride, even if the material to pass across his desk may have seemed, at first glance, unpromising. He created additional dialogue for The Oblong Box (1969) and then, consolidating his association with Vincent Price and director Gordon Hessler, wrote the screenplay for Scream and Scream Again (1969), perhaps his best known credit. There were several others, and later on a long association with Hammer Films which yielded productive collaborations with the former Ealing editor and director Seth Holt (Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, 1971), and, with the producer Frank Godwin, Demons of the Mind (1972). Godwin helped to inculcate discipline into Wicking's wayward working methods and they were to collaborate for over 40 years.

Christopher Wicking was educated in London at Coopers' Company's School and St Martin's School of Art. He entered films as a film booking clerk at Anglo-Amalgamated Film Distributors before moving closer to production with a stint as assistant film editor on documentaries, and thence to fledgling screenwriter. His passion, within a passion, was westerns. An early homage, Last Train to Horsted Keynes (1962), went unproduced.

He was undeterred and began writing about westerns instead. Interviews with western directors such as Anthony Mann and Delmer Daves went hand in glove with an early published critique of Budd Boetticher's minimalist westerns with Randolph Scott. In those days, he was usually ahead of the prevailing critical coteries. In 1972, he was responsible for organising and curating a splendid William Wellman retrospective at the National Film Theatre.

This parallel activity to screenwriting had its origins in the early 1960s when he was a leading light in the Magic Eye Film Society, which met in the private cinema of the Estonian embassy in London, showing such films as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) – hardly film society fare in those days – with Wicking as whipper-in. Saturday afternoons were reserved for double bills of masterpieces missed. The same spirit was later to permeate film courses he tutored in a variety of venues, including the Royal College of Art.

Students were quickly agog at his sparky erudition. Nor was it only film talk. To friends, he would discourse for an hour on new-kid-on-the-block Bob Dylan, and later in the evening, for a further hour, on the then controversial Richard Strauss.

As the cult following built over the years, the spectre of some of his early credits remained, however. He was still fleeing from The Murders of the Rue Morgue (1971) and the grisly mayhem of To the Devil – A Daughter (1976), while The Cry of the Banshee (1970), despite the venerable presence of the veteran actress Elisabeth Bergner, was a nightmare he no longer needed.

The horror cycle was on the wane and work became irregular. Increasingly he was called in to rewrite other writers rather than enjoy a solo credit. There was co-writer credit on Absolute Beginners (1986), Julien Temple's adaptation of the Colin MacInnes novel, but then came the "polishing" – enough to shine a Victorian range.

Television beckoned. He brought to it the same painstaking examination of material as had characterised his work for the big screen. He would describe his proposed scenes in the same cinematic way and write them that way too, as three episodes of The Professionals (1979-82) and an adaptation of the Jack Higgins thriller On Dangerous Ground (1996) attest. And there was a commissioned trip to America in 1982 to develop a TV series on missing persons, based on the files of Tracers Inc, the company that looks for missing persons. The "Bible", as it is known, of running characters and sample storylines was duly delivered but this also went missing. There was no series.

His most enduring contribution to television is the book he wrote with Tise Vahimagi, The American Vein – Directors and Directions in Television (1978). This invaluable primer constantly reminds us of an impressive roll call of major directors who greased their skillet in the arid wastes of episode TV – the likes of Robert Altman, William Friedkin and Clint Eastwood. Despite a high hack quotient he defended it stoutly, maintaining that even the worst of it had more film values than most British TV drama.

Chris Wicking's World of Cinema whirred away in his head for more than four decades, projecting one of the most fertile imaginations to bless this or any other film industry. But the industry, as ever, seldom knew what to do with it. And yet enough of his films remain to argue in favour of his favourite mantra – that mainstream commercial cinema was an honourable arena in which to leave behind an identifiable body of work. He belonged to a rare breed – the true cineaste who never directed a picture.

Christopher Wicking, screenwriter, writer and teacher: born London 10 January 1943; twice married (one son, one daughter); died Toulouse, France 13 October 2008.

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week